By Nic Stone
Genre: Contemporary/Black Lives Matter
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Bang Bang Review
Justyce McAllister is a black teen who attends a predominantly white prep school. His best friend, Manny, is also black; he has some white acquaintances; his ex-girlfriend is half black; and his debate partner and love interest is Jewish. After an incident with a police officer, Jus has decided to write to Martin Luther King Jr.
Let me begin by saying that I’m aware this has a high rating on GR and that it’s nominated for the Morris Award and I wanted to like it and I want to support black authors and Nic Stone looks like a cool as woman but there were too many issues for me to really enjoy it. So here we go…
One of my main issues is that this book only touched the surface of race. The incidents in the text were not uncommon to most people of all races including racial profiling, affirmative action, racially insensitive friends, and interracial dating. The aforementioned topics did not shed much new light on the trials and tribulations of being African American. Police killing black people has become a watershed moment and many non black teens don’t really understand it. I had a white teen ask me, “Don’t all lives matter?” He’s a naturally curious boy and he just didn’t understand. This book could have taken the opportunity to really get into the underbelly of the issue but I felt it only reached the surface. There’s a lot of telling. We see Jus’ incident in the beginning and we’re told about these other boys who were killed and an acquaintance of Jus is killed but we don’t really feel Jus’ frustrations or anger and it could be because it’s told in 3rd person. Sure, Jus’ conversations with MLK are told in 1st person but when the real shit goes down, he’s taken a hiatus from his discourses with MLK and we see his stereotypical bad decisions.
Speaking of MLK, Jus’ conversations with him is what sets this book apart but it was a missed opportunity. Jus really only talks about his attraction to a white girl when he knows his mother won’t like it. He does talk about his issues with Manny, his racially insensitive white classmates, and his run ins and attitudes about the police but once again, there’s no depth. Jus did a big project on MLK which means he knows A LOT about this man’s life. He should know that MLK taught non violence but he has to hear it from Manny’s father? He’s about to become extremely violent and he doesn’t talk about it with MLK? Instead we get a lot of talk about the white girl he likes. This could have been an opportunity to teach teens something new about MLK to make them want to learn more about this man but instead, we didn’t learn anything. I mean the book is called Dear Martin; I was expecting to see some comparison/contractions to the civil rights movement to the HUGE race issues we are facing today. I expected Jus to be frank with Martin and discuss his serious issues with Manny, the white classmates, and his terrifying run in with the police but it was all surface level.
Jus really had a tough time with his crush with SJ, the Jewish girl, so I’m assuming this is a somewhat major issue. I mean he cried about it; lost his appetite; wrote to MLK about it -DAMN. But once again, the text only told us his mother wouldn’t like it. We saw Mel get a bit upset but that’s it. Black men dating white women is an issue in the black community and it really wasn’t addressed. We could have learned about this through Mel’s eyes but no. In college, I had a biracial friend whose mother was white and her father was black and it really bothered her to see a black man with a white girl. She dating dark skinned men. Talk about it especially if it’s a contributing factor in being black in America which it is. Once again, surface level.
None of the characters, including Jus had a new voice or were particularly developed well. The dialog wasn’t particularly compelling or insightful.
My small issues included the teacher. It bothered me that he encouraged the teens to have frank conversations but constantly interjected with “Watch your language” or “I’m calling the principal.” I didn’t understand the significance of him saying that on the page over and over and over. Manny confessed that he’s afraid of black girls because they are ghetto and meanwhile, Manny was ghetto too. I laughed out loud at that shit. Maybe it’s different in the south, I grew up and live in Illinois, but if you go to a predominantly white school, you don’t use a lot of urban slang. My entire life I was told that I talk like a white girl and I went to racially diverse school even though I had a lot of white friends. It just seemed unrealistic that Jus and especially Manny who had very well educated parents and who lived the lifestyle he lived and associated with a lot of white kids and dated white girls that his speech included a lot of slang. I could be wrong and it could be a regional thing.
What’s My Point?
Dear Martin is a fine book if you are beginning your race-in-America discussion. It’s just touching the surface and you aren’t going to get anything in depth.
I’m am at a point in my contemporary/realistic fiction reading where I need inspirational topics and themes; beautiful prose; and strong dynamic characters. I need to learn something new or see it from a different perspective and if I’m reading the same thing over and over, I’m not gonna like and I’m gonna criticize it because I’m angry at its potential.
Everyone always tell me that I don’t like anything and yes, I’m quite critical. If you are interested in the contemporary books that I REALLY liked they include Release by Patrick Ness; Landscape with Invisible Hand by MT Anderson; All the Crooked Saints by Stiefvater; Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds; The Hate U Give; Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson; Turtles All the Way Down. Some older books include Eleanor and Park; The Sun in Also a Star; I’ll Give You the Sun; More Happy Than Not; Grasshopper Jungle; Looking for Alaska; Bone Gap; The Serpent King; Simon vs Homosapiens Agenda. See, I like stuff.